Dumpster Diver to Diesel-Sponsored: Diplo’s Strange Journey
Published October 13, 2010
DIPLO, DRESSED UP TO LOOK MAD DECENT.
Wesley Pentz, most commonly known as Diplo, is Mad Decent’s label head, producer, and one-half of the DJ duo Major Lazer. He has been touring almost nonstop for close to three years, and in the last year he has produced countless remixes, released his documentary Favela on Blast (co directed with partner Leandro HBL), worked with Die Antwoord and appeared in their newest video sporting a zef haircut, and caused a stir after he produced songs on M.I.A’s new album /// Y/, and then proceeded to criticize the rest of her album on Twitter. We caught up with Diplo in Jamaica as he worked on the new Major Lazer album. Below, he shares with us the artists he is working with for the new album, what music he listened to growing up, and his desire to make a 100 million dollar film about a flea market in Oklahoma.
KRISTINA BENNS: Where did you grow up? What kind of music did you listen to?
DIPLO: I grew up in Mississippi listening to Miami bass, and a little heavy metal. Very hardcore stuff, though also some pop stuff from the radio.
BENNS: What was your crew like? What role did you play?
DIPLO: I moved a lot, not too much crew. I went from Mississippi to Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, and back around to Florida again, between Ft. Lauderdale and then near to Daytona Beach. Also Orlando, Florida as well. Some places I ran with kids making music or doing graffiti. That was the extent of it. I never got popular enough to go to jail or anything, though. I rolled solo a lot. Maybe in Daytona I worked a lot with the weird kids in that tiny town. That’s where I really decided, I’m going to move and be as weird as possible.
BENNS: Where are you right now?
DIPLO: I’m in Jamaica recording the second Major Lazer album.
BENNS: Is there a reason you go down to Jamaica to work besides the proximity of the artists you work with? Is there anything in Jamaica culturally that you gravitate towards?
DIPLO: The best thing about Jamaica is simply the accessibility. After that, it’s really a matter of making the music great. But we have been to Jamaica so many times for recording, or to perform. So it’s become great that we have some acceptance there now. But right now there’s mad underground as well in Jamaica, and there’s something in the history and overall weirdness of the place that I can’t seem to stay away from.
BENNS: You’re working on the new Major Lazer EP, how is that going?
DIPLO: It’s actually a whole album we are trying to nail right now. About halfway through I’d say. I’d like to have it done by the end of the year and get it out for 2011. It’s a pretty random selection, top-form dancehall guests; Vybz Kartel, Bugle, Timberlee. Also, Vampire Weekend, Lykke Li, and Santigold. Then we have some classic fellas like Lee Perry and Junior Murvin. It’s like reggae is the vehicle, but we really live in this Major Lazer post-apocalypse world where all these artists don’t seem strange together.
BENNS: You’ve worked with a lot of big artists for the last two EP’s but are there any new, lesser-known artists on the album that you’re excited about? Why?
DIPLO: I think there’s lots of kids in Jamaica that surprise us. None of them are too unfamiliar. One producer, the Russian, is top form and just excellent, but mostly it’s the producers I want to collaborate with the most.
BENNS: What other artists in general are you currently excited about?
DIPLO: I like someone like Bruno Mars, with a number one album. Sure, he’s pop, but he’s a Puerto Rican making Hawaiian reggae music for urban stations. The album is solid as well. I like Magnetic Man in the UK. It seems those are the guys that deserve to make it big, putting in that much work. I like Deerhunter-Bradford Cox is actually one of my cousins. I like Flying Lotus, he’s just going to get better and better, and his ideas are bigger than the music he makes, gonna get scary when that catches up.
MAJOR LAZER’S “HOLD THE LINE.”
BENNS: You were recently in a Blackberry ad, you have a shoe collaboration with eS, and the label has had Diesel-sponsored parties. Do you think artists and music labels in general will become more open to working with companies and commercially marketing themselves, as it becomes harder to get people to purchase music? Have you gotten a lot of push-back for your commercial involvement?
DIPLO: Our label was started after the sort of funeral of the recording industry. I’d have no way to do anything. I’d be paralyzed unless I had people investing in our brand. Instead of it being a return in the label growing, it’s just keeping us fluent enough to reach more and more fans. I think we are poised to do something now that is gonna be big. I think we all think that it’s time too, here on our team. As far as push back… No. I mean really maybe it’s a bummer kids don’t think that at all. When I was fifteen I used to run around reading Adbusters and dumpster diving, trying to find ways to make the U.S. government unwind into chaos through hardcore punk and metal. Maybe I should be happy that kids haven’t gotten wind of that kind of anarchism, but we aren’t going to be able to support ourselves through any other means unless we really really start to suck.
BENNS: “Pon De Floor” really had a steady build, and became influential on a lot of dance music that came out that year. Were you confident that that was going to happen, or did it come as a surprise to you? Do you anticipate making that happen again?
DIPLO: I think that when we first had Major Lazer start out, the record was released about a year ago, we didn’t have any expectations but I had to find a way to get us heard. I think that song had a trademark, and with our art and with the videos it started to come together. Somehow we managed something, so I guess I aimed high. I think that we should have had a different release schedule, but we are poised to do something really cool this year with the Cartoon Network show and with the fan base we already have. I really want to make it do something crazy and I got a couple of tricks still.
BENNS: You went to school for film, and Favela on Blast was released this year. If you could make another film, with no limits on the budget, what would you try to make?
DIPLO: Baraka or Koyaanisqatsi but from the point of view of the narco-traffickers in El Paso and the homeless kids in Papua, New Guinea, and Bloods and Crips in the Philippines. None of that academic shit. Just globalization gone wrong.
Then there’s a screenplay I wrote via Twitter called Ghostyboy. Also another one I’m writing about a flea market in Oklahoma that I want to sink at least 100 million dollars into.
How mad would it actually be to do an Avatar type animation film, but about something mundane like a Winn-Dixie cashier’s day at work? That’d be something else I think.
BENNS: What can we expect from Mad Decent in the near future?
DIPLO: We had our best year in a lot of ways, Rusko’s album came out, Major Lazer’s came out. We had radio records. We put out Favela on Blast. Before the year is over we have our first compilation out, Blow Your Head, which is a collection of dubstep I love from all over the world. And we have a bunch of new artists that we hope will take us all over the place; Maluca, PoPo, and the Bosco Delrey record which is out soon. That’s the one I’m very excited about. And in 2011 we are putting out some books and some TV and film ideas too. Lots of singles and ideas.